Difference between revisions of "Kosovo"
Revision as of 13:11, 18 February 2013
Kosovo  (Albanian: Kosova, Serbian: Kосово и Метохија, Kosovo i Metohija) is a disputed territory and de facto independent country in South Eastern Europe. After a lengthy and often violent dispute with Serbia, Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 and (as of 16 October 2012) 93 UN states recognise this and it has become a member country of the IMF and World Bank as the Republic of Kosovo, despite heavy Serbian opposition .
Kosovo, though a secular republic, is largely Albanian-speaking and Muslim but there are also significant numbers of minorities living within its borders, especially Serbs. Kosovo's far north, along with two small regions elsewhere, have a Serb majority and are under local control. Kosovo borders Albania to the west, Montenegro to the north west, Macedonia to the south, and Serbia (from its perspective) to the north east; the latter frontier is viewed by Serbia as being an internal boundary separating Kosovo (as an internal province) with Central Serbia.
The population of Kosovo is about 92% Albanian, who use the name Kosova in their Albanian tongue. Although the official name in English Republic of Kosovo is approved by Kosovo's Albanian-speaking authorities, the word Kosova still finds its way into the English vernacular of locals.
Many people in Kosovo can speak English and German; they are more than willing to help you and tell you their stories. As an outsider, you will get to hear both sides.
If you are interested in more than just seeing beautiful mountains and ancient ruins on your vacation to 'the region', Kosovo strongly recommends itself.
The climate is continental, with very warm summers and cold and snowy winters.
Kosovo is currently one of the very few states thatdoes not require a visa from anyone. Any foreign citizen can enter the territory of the Republic of Kosovo by simply presenting:
If you are planning to stay in Kosovo for more than 90 days you should, as in any other Balkan country, register at the Police Department for the Registration of Foreigners. This is is next to the central police station in Pristina. The 90 day rule for the registration of foreigners applies to everybody .
Several European airlines have started to offer direct flights from their hubs to the International Airport of Pristina Examples are British Airways, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, SWISS, Belle Air, Croatia Airlines, Air Berlin and Austrian Airlines. Adria Airways has a regional hub in Pristina. During the summer, several additional charter flights are available for travellers.
From Montenegro, you can enter through Rozaje to Peja/Pec(approximately 2.0 hours).
From Macedonia, you can take a bus to Prishtina (approximately 2.5 h)
There is a border crossing in the Presevo Valley in Serbia.
There are a couple companies offering buses from Istanbul via Skopje.
From Albania, you can enter through Prizren on a nice new road; gone are the days of the "nightmare" 10 h mountain ride. The trip from Tirane costs 10€ and takes 4 h, with two stops.
There are also trains crossing the Kosovo border. Two daily services connects Kraljevo in Serbia with all towns on the Leshak, Fushë Kosovë (Kosovo Polje). Connections from Beograd are possible but includes a long stay between train at Kraljevo, thus bringing the journey to more than 12 hours for 399 km.
This service has vanished from Kosovo Railways' timetable but it is reported that Serbian Railways run a twice daily service from Zvecan (just after Mitrovica) all the way to Kraljevo. Check their homepage for details. No passenger trains currently run between Fushe Kovove/Kosovo Polje - Mitrovica - Zvecan.
An identical service runs from Skopje in Macedonia to Pristina in Kosovo. The schedule is found here: http://www.mztransportad.com.mk/dokumenti/RED%20NA%20VOZENJE%20DZEPEN%202011-2012.pdf (Sorry, Cyrillic script). The timetable is also available at the Kosovo railways website.
The train northbound leaves at 16:35 and arrives 19:35, the train southbound leaves at 07:10 and arrives 09:51 (fall 2012). These trains are reasonably fast and give the opportunity to see a lot of the country and are a good value at approximately €4 each way (€ 2,50 for the Kosovo part of the itinerary and 94 MKD (about € 1,60) for the Macedonian part). Coming from Skopje in Macedonia, in Nov 2012 there is a Macedonian train running to the Kosovo border (including both border posts), then a 20 minute bus ride to the southern Kosovo city Kaçanik, and then another train to Pristina. Note that these trains are not heated and can be very cold even in autumn.
To enter Kosovo, the validity and acceptance of the International Motor Insurance Card is in doubt. At the border you will need to pay €30 for an insurance extra which will cover you throughout Kosovo for two weeks. Ensure also that you have your vehicle registration and a power of attorney from the owner if the car is not yours. During the summer holidays in Germany and Switzerland expect long queues at the border crossing in Merdare (up to 10h).
At the border the European Motor Insurance/Green Card is not accepted, insurance for a short stay is €15 (as of September 2012). The roads are generally in good condition, and the standard of driving is typical of other countries in the Balkans. However expect large farm animals to be wandering the roads.
The best way to travel intercity in Kosovo is by bus. Buses are relatively cheap; Pristina to Peja is €4.00, for example. Within Pristina, rides cost €0.40.
Kosovan Railways (Kosovske Zeleznice - Hekurudhat e Kosovës)  are currently (2006) running the following passenger train services: from Fushë Kosovë (Serbian: Kosovo Polje; a city near Pristina) to Leshak (a town North at the Serb frontier) three trains a day. From Fushë Kosovë at 07.35, 11.18 and 14.15 and from Leshak at 09.55, 13.19 and 16.50. The train passes through most of the Serbian enclaves that are strung up through the northern part of Kosovo. The system is seen as a way of helping to make the lives of the Serbs in the enclaves easier but also as a way to help integration. The service is free of charge to local people. Another service runs twice a day from Fushë Kosovë at 04.17 and 19.00 to Hani i Elezit (former General Jankovic) on the border to Macedonia, return journeys from Hani i Elezit starts at 05.53 and 20.44. A local suburban services runs from Fushë Kosovë to Grazhanica with departures from F. Kosovë at 05.40 and 19.17, returning from Grazhanica at 06.30 and 20.05. There are two daily trains from Pristina to Peja/Pec which are a comfortable way to make this journey (€3) The service to Gracanica has been suspended, and the service Fushe Kosovo to Leshak seems to have been taken over by Serbian Railways between Zvecan and Lesak (no trains between Fushë Kosovë -Mitrovica - Zvecan)
You can get a superb atlas of Kosovo from the OSCE that has detailed ethnic maps (before and after the war), vital statistics, along with navigational maps. To get the map, ask for the NGO Information office near the OSCE building in Pristina.
English and German are languages that the majority of population speak especially by the younger population. Italian is also spoken but much more rarely than English and German.
The Turkish minority speaks Turkish and Albanian. Turkish is also spoken by some Albanians also, especially the older generations.
Most people in northern Kosovo are ethnic Serbs, so Serbian will come in handy there.
Visit a coffee shop in Prishtina, and have a macchiato.
Kosovo has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of 327 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
The Serbian dinar is the official currency in the Serbian-ruled four northern municipalities as well as in larger enclaves with Serbian majority such as Gracanica and Strpce. Exchange offices are found almost everywhere.
Best restaurants to eat at are those that are located in the villages near by big cities; they tend to have the best meat dishes and the best sea food. Trout, seabass and salmon fish are very common and popular and are kept fresh in their pools and are nearly always fried when you order. Prices are pretty average and, for some European countries consider, cheap.
Lots of great burek (baked pastry stuffed with cheese, meat or spinach). Try the drinkable yoghurt (Ayran) - it's superb. Lots of kebabs and other Ottoman Turkish style food. As far as you are in an Albanian territory, you could try Albanian food as well. Fli, a very good pastry, can be found in different traditional restaurants.
At the bakery, you can buy a fantastic loaf of bread for under €1.
The grocery stores have a plentiful supply of Western food.
Beer at Peja is a pretty good brew. It is brewed in Peja (Pec). Peja Premium is a slightly stronger beer from the same brewery but less widely available. Wine is also widely consumed when eating out, some local wine and also Vranac from Montenegro are the most common ones. Even though the Albanians are predominantly of Muslim heritage, drinking is quite liberal.
Raki is also another alcoholic beverage in Kosova. It is made from local fruits (the most common one is from grape) and can be best described as a hard liquor similar to vodka. It can be quite strong so if you have a weak stomach or do not often drink liquor avoid this beverage.
Yogurt/Ayran is also a common local drink and is consumed with pastry foods. Boza is also another common sweet drink drank with cakes and pastries.
Accommodation in Kosovo can be expensive, meaning it is probably the same as hotels in surrounding countries (starts at €25 and goes over €100) and primarily is designed for people working for the development agencies. Your best bet on finding a place to stay is outside of Prishtina (if you're with the car) and to have a contact there ahead of time (even if its just somebody you met over the internet) and stay with them. Or possibly contact some of the smaller development organisations, such as Balkan Sunflowers and online listing of Kosovo hotels, and ask if they can help you with accommodation staying in a rural community or in the city for a higher price.
Skopje in Macedonia has some very cheap accommodation, so doing day trips to Kosovo from there is very much a possibility. But Prishtina now has many places; thus, there is no need to go and come back from Skopje just for a cheap hotel for a night.
Avoid getting too much into politics in Kosovo, although ask as many questions (within reason) as you like. They are very open about their hatred of each other and more than willing to tell you about it.
Don’t let the politics stop you from visiting; tensions have risen in a few moments in the past decade, but nearly all have been in the divided city of Mitrovica in the north of the country and with a 10,000+ NATO peace keeping force and a large international Police force, you are very safe from pretty much everything and the chance of a full out conflict is very low with such international supervision and even if one is to occur, all foreigners would be evacuated within 48 hours. You will most likely find peacekeeping soldiers from your own country to help you if you need it.
There is pretty much no physical or criminal dangers you need to worry about people in general—both Albanians and Serbs—are extremely friendly and hospitable to tourists. Kosovo is a country that is used to having a vast amount of foreigners from all over the world. Since the end of the war, there were more than 200,000 international workers from over the world came to aid the rebuilding and peace effort in the country and the locals are very used to people from outside and very friendly.
The corruption level is extremely low and the Kosovo police corruption is again very low thanks to the supervision of the EULEX international police, which means it is one of the only countries in Eastern Europe where bribery is pretty much unheard of unless you have committed a major crime and are offering tends of thousands, but that is a different story between the police and organised crime and has nothing to do with regular people and tourists.
Use only registered taxis as they have fixed fares and you will not get scammed with unlicensed taxis; they are safe, but they will always scam you if you use the meter, so if you have to use an unlicensed taxi, make sure you come to a deal before hand so he does not use the meter.
Homophobia is somewhat of an issue and people don’t take kindly to homosexuals, but again, physical harm is not an issue unless you openly display affection or manners.
Like much of the Balkans, land mines were heavily used during the Yugoslav civil wars. Though this was a major problem in the country in the first four years after the war, now it’s a very rare that you encounter them, most suspicious areas are listed in local tour guide books, most of the mined areas are places where conflict took place (Central Kosovo countryside and Kosovo–Albania border region).
It's very safe to go hiking and camping — just ask before you do so to make sure it's not a suspicious area and most hiking and camping takes place in areas where war did not occur, like the Sharr mountains where there is a ski and camping resort.
Likely stolen to sell as scrap metal, one should keep an eye out for this potential hazard. Whilst not an issue on busy city streets, walking even a few kilometres outside downtown Pristina can be dangerous - particularly when walking in tall grass beside roads or sidewalks. Local residents have been known to use a small pile of sticks and stones to cover an open sewer pit and care should be taken not to step on these either.
It is possible for foreigners to obtain treatment at the public hospital in Pristina (staff from your accommodation may come in handy as translators). However, the state of the hospital is far from ideal: The toilets have no soap, infusions are hanging from improvised stands. Kosovo has no public health insurance system and you will be required to pay your bill in cash. A visit to the doctor and a few pills from the pharmacy will cost you around 20 €. If you know what you need you may visit the pharmacy directly as no prescription is needed.
Don't pet dogs — stay away from them!!!
Whilst most are not aggressive when they are in packs, they can very well be, so make sure you stay away and don’t run away from them either as dogs chase you when you run; sometimes, the best defence is an attack so charging at them a little usually scares them away. But again, this is only a problem in the outskirts of the cities and at night, as during the day, you will hardly encounter them and they will stay away from humans.
There are direct flights from Pristina International Airport to London, New York City, Zurich, Geneva, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Vienna, Zagreb, Hamburg, Hannover, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Frankfurt,Podgorica, Munich, Stuttgart, Bremen, Rome, Milan, Verona, Ljubljana, Budapest, Tirana, Istanbul and Antalya. Soon, there will be direct flights to Sarajevo and other destinations.
There are direct bus links to most cities in Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Albania, Turkey, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Note that if you plan to go to Russia after Kosovo, you may encounter a bit of trouble entering the country as Russia still considers the declaration of independence of Kosovo to be illegal.